People love taking pictures of their pets, and love looking at them as well, cat and dogs pictures are among the most looked at on online photographic forums like Flickr. But taking pictures of pets is not easy,
Partly this because of their habit of disappearing or not doing as you want when you’re about to try and take a picture. And partly it’s because of the difficulty of focusing and exposing correctly. So how do you go about taking the best pictures that you can?
Have the right equipment
It’s possible to use any camera but you will generally get best results using a DSLR. If you use a compact camera you should be fine for shots when the pet is still but when they are moving it could be more difficult. For distance shots, such as your dog playing the park, a telephoto lens is obviously a good idea
A wide-angle lens used a close range can often give interesting and amusing results.
It’s generally best not to use a Flash because it doesn’t generally show off Pets in their best light. You could get redeye and the flash can bounce off fur.
Use a monopod
A monopod will give your camera stability but you’ll still be able to move around quickly.
Choose the right viewpoint
It’s often best with pet photos to get down to the level of your pet so you will often have to be lying on the ground. Or if you have an LCD screen that tilts you could look down into your camera from above.
As an alternative, instead of taking a photograph on the ground you can try going for some interesting angles, such as taking a picture from above or below them – this is good for emphasizing a tall animal.
Get the right camera settings.
The key thing is that you often have very little time to get the picture, so it is best to use one of the automatic modes on your camera. A good choice is aperture priority
If will often be a good idea to leave the exposure on one setting, if you have consistent light.
If you are taking a close range shot a wide aperture will enable you to blur the background and make the pet stand out the foreground
For action shots a small aperture will increase the depth of field and make focusing much easier.
The main thing is to make sure that the shutter speed is fast enough for you to hold the camera by hand but to not get any shake. On cameras that have image stabilization or if you’re using a monopod then you can often go down to 1/15 sec.
If you’re taking action shots then you’ll need a faster speed, try using 1/250 sec. Although if you haven’t got good light you might need to increase the ISO to 400 or more.
An interesting technique is to use a slower speed and move the camera at the same time as your pet is moving, it can give more dynamic photographs.
Fur is very hard to meter because if the fur is dark it will absorb a lot of light while if it is white it will reflect it. A black and white animal will thus be particularly difficult to photograph and could be more than your sensor is capable of dealing with.
If you are filling the frame with a dark subject such as a black Labrador your meter will try to turn the black fur grey, so you’ll need to apply negative exposure compensation. The reverse is true with a white pet – you may need to add a stop of so of compensation to avoid underexposure.
If your pet is a relatively small part of a wider scene things get tricky, because the brightness of the surroundings comes into play. A black dog running on a beach, say, is an extreme example where the meter, influenced by the background, may render the dog a solid black mass with no detail at all.
Do a test shot first. Use the histogram, if it helps. Make sure you shoot in the Raw format too, because if you do get it wrong you’ll have much more scope for adjustment later.
For action shots you are best of with a continuous shooting mode – continuous AF. The camera will keep on refocusing on the animal as it moves. This will mean that you should not miss a key moment and the pet should be in good focus.
If you are taking a close up, try and focus on the eyes if you can, they are one of an animal’s best features and can look great.
Read more about technique here.
Things can happen quickly so you always need to be alert and for your camera battery to be fully charged and with a new card in.
Get some help
It can be handy to have someone to help you keep the pet in the right people and distract them with toys or noises to get them to look in the right direction when you are ready to take a picture.
Stand close, or far away
It’s good to be able to fill up the frame. This generally means either moving in very close to the pet or standing further back with a telephoto lens
You’ll want to pay attention if you plan on getting close, animals can sometimes turn out not be friendly, so you might be better using a long lense if the animal is not yours.
An alternative to filling the frame is to show the pet in a pleasing environment, so it becomes more like a documentary rather than a portrait shot, and you try and tell a story about what the pet is doing.
Decide on a candid or posed shot
A Candid shot is designed to show what your pet’s normal behavior is, them chasing or stalking something or lying asleep somewhere. This type of shot is generally easier because they were doing what you are going to photograph anyway. It’s mainly a matter of waiting to capture the right moment. If you know the way your pet normal behaves you’ve got a head start in knowing what to expect it to do next. For example if you know your dog likes to swim in the river you can be prepared for it with a fast shutter speed and a zoom fixed. Some animals are obviously easier than others. Horses are usually reasonably easy to photograph, and I didn’t have too many problems on a shoot I had to do recently for a horse insurance website .
Posed shots are much more difficult and can require a lot of patience.
If you have endless patience you might want to try getting some posed pet photography shots. This normally means putting them in a particular spot, preferably one with a fairly neutral background, and for them to look into the camera, the latter bit in particular may not be easy. Having them on a piece of lawn is often a good idea or on the carpet inside. Remove any items that may be distracting.
You’ll need to make sure that wherever you are you have good light. Natural light is much better than using a flash so if you’re indoors put them near a window or door.
Outdoors, diffused shade will eliminate distracting shadows and keep the contrast down, making your exposure easier. Dappled sunlight can look good but take care with your metering.
Getting the pet’s attention is the hardest bit and making noise or waving things are popular methods to try. It can also be hard to stop them wandering off, and they are likely to get quickly bored so you’ll want to get a good picture as quickly as you can. If at first you don’t succeed have another go later on. Patience is the key thing here, something I needed plenty of when I was recently taking pictures for a pest control website in London.
It may be worth doing the formal shoot when your pet is sleepy and not so included to move quickly away. Or if you want an action shot wait until they have woken up. You want to try and convey the personality of the pet as best you can.